Dressed in kimonos for the occasion, third-graders, from left, Kate Henman, Megan Bouton, Isa Mercurio, Meili Warren and Angie Hurt, explain how they would use the tiles.
Five dozen small hands shot up when the students were asked what day it was.
“It’s tile day!” they yelled wildly, flapping the wide sleeves of their kimonos.
For days now, two classes of third-graders at Emerson Magnet School have been preparing for the arrival of hundreds of colored tiles that will decorate the Westerville school or another public building. But these aren’t just any tiles.
They’re what 9-year-old Natalie Tangeman has learned are “an important part of Westerville history.”
“We have to save it,” she said yesterday.
The 1-by-1-centimeter pieces come from the Kyoto Tea House, a historic Japanese-style compound that was recently demolished after the city decided it was too dilapidated to renovate.
The former attraction has been replaced by a vacant lot at State and Plum streets, so the tiles the city saved are all that’s left of its half-century existence.
Officials preserved two coveted tile murals, including one of Japan’s Mount Fuji, that are in storage. Other tiles from around the building were boxed up for the 51 students.
The tiles come in various colors, although many are blue because they came from a mural that had images of water.
With help from their teachers, the students will decide how to refashion the tiles. They might make another mural of their own design or create a three-dimensional piece that can be displayed at Emerson or another public building.
“This is very unique. I’ve never known a project like this before,” said Beth Weinhardt, local historian for the Westerville Public Library. “It’s bittersweet that it’s happening because of the destruction of something, but at least something is being saved.”
The city opposed efforts by residents who wanted to see the compound restored.
The tea house was a 1950s retrofit by a linguist with the Army intelligence service and his wife.
George and Opal Henderson were so inspired by what they saw in Japan that they turned their home into a monument to postwar healing. Their son sold it in 2005, and it went through several owners before falling into foreclosure. The city bought it last year.
Helen Chan, a resident who initially fought the demolition, eventually gave her blessing, provided that the city save tiles. She was happy they are being used to educate students, who will then turn them into public art for the city.
“This carries forward the purpose of that property, which is to educate people on the Japanese culture,” she said.
In the coming weeks, the students will clean the pieces and glue them together into a new work of art. It won’t be easy, but all seemed enthusiastic about the cause yesterday.
As 9-year-old Olivia Rasar put it: “I want to do this because we’re the only ones who will. I’m proud to do it.”